One by one, women came forward, approaching with caution. Before long, a small line had formed.
“Sigo yo?” the women asked. “Am I next?” What they were really asking: is it time to tell my story? Will you listen?
Over the past few weeks, my colleague Francisca Vigaud-Walsh and I have listened to dozens of testimonies by Colombian women, describing years lived at the center of their country’s armed conflict with the FARC-EP (the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas-Ejército del Pueblo). Refugees International was there in an effort to better understand how the international community can better support women in Colombia’s post-peace deal period.
With a historic peace deal recently reached between the Colombian government and the FARC, one of the world’s most notorious armed groups, Colombia’s women are rallying, seeking justice and reparations for their years of suffering and the violations of their rights.
Women have been affected by Colombia’s decades-old conflict in countless ways. Many have been kidnapped, raped, tortured, mutilated, or killed, while others have been displaced, left alone to care for and support their families, often after their husbands have been killed. With a historic peace deal recently reached between the Colombian government and the FARC, one of the world’s most notorious armed groups, Colombia’s women are rallying, seeking justice and reparations for their years of suffering and the violations of their rights.
We recently spent a few days in the region of Putumayo, where a network of women are mobilizing to educate their communities about the recent peace deal and the upcoming national plebiscite, in which the people of Colombia will vote Sí or No to the peace agreement. Inspiring and fearless, these women are mestizo, Afro-Colombian, indigenous, young and old, urban and rural, all united in their desire to bring peace and justice to their communities. It seemed only fitting that they gathered at a center for indigenous women, a homage to the sisterhood that ties them together.
There was something electric about being in room full of ambitious and impressive women, filled with optimism about the future of their country. The women themselves were buzzing with ideas, energy, and hope.
The women of Putumayo have taken it upon themselves to educate their communities, sharing information about the peace agreement directly with the people. As the women developed their individual peace plan activities, including peace walks, dances, and community potlucks, we sat down with a few of them to understand how they came to be a part of the women’s network. As the day progressed and the women gained trust in us, they came forward, eager to share their stories.
There was something electric about being in room full of ambitious and impressive women, filled with optimism about the future of their country.
Esperanza* was nervous to speak at first, but once she began, it was clear she wanted someone to listen to her. Esperanza’s son was killed a decade ago by the FARC-EP. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about her son or continues to suffer from the loss. Without additional family to support her, her economic situation is precarious. “I wish they could put their hands on my heart and feel my pain,” she told us, referencing the people who tell her simply to ‘move on’.
As Esperanza told her story, often overcome with emotion, I couldn’t help wonder: Who will support her now? How will she know how to navigate the seemingly unending bureaucracy that is Colombia’s Victims’ Unit (the government office charged with doling out reparations)? Where will she make her case? Who will listen to her?
Donor governments are readying support for Colombia’s transition to peace. The demobilization and disarmament of FARC are critical steps in Colombia’s de-escalation of conflict, and should be funded appropriately. But donor nations should also keep in mind women like Esperanza, who have waited years for acknowledgement, justice, and reparation.
Their time is due, and their stories deserve to be heard.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.